Turkey lags behind with regards to climate change. In fact, it is one of the last countries to be a party to climate agreements. Worse, when it does join climate agreements, it does not abide by their most basic principles. That explains its policy consisting in the increase of coal, gas and petrol imports as well as its unbridled use of asphalt and concrete.
That goes for the Paris Agreement. Turkey is amongst the 12 countries that have not yet joined the agreement. To understand Turkey’s current situation with the Paris Agreement, one should look at the two previous climate agreements.
The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development was decided during the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The agreement came into force in 1994. Yet it was years later that Turkey considered within its agenda. In 2003, the agreement was discussed in parliament and published in the Official Gazette.
The joining process dragged on. It was only in the spring of 2004 that Turkey officially became a party to the agreement. This means Turkey joined the Rio Declaration 12 years after its inception.
Yet shortly after this, in 2005, a regulation came out in the Official Gazette: the Mining Law Application Regulation. A temporary article added to this regulation granted new powers to the General Directorate of Mining Affairs. Following this law, coal and electricity production in the country increased incrementally via mine leasing. At the time, coal production through leasing was only 447,000 tons. By 2014, it had been raised to 4.3 million tons. Meanwhile, electricity production through the leasing model had reached a volume of 887 million tons of coal reserves, with an established capacity of 3,000 MW.
Besides, coal mine explorations – which has stopped in 1987 – resumed in 2005. While the known reserves back then were estimated at around 8.7 billion tons, they are today said to be close to 18 billion tons. As a result, the number of coal and other mines has grown exponentially.
This implies Turkey’s joining of the agreement went hand in hand with a policy of rising coal production. Rather than curbing climate change, this further induced it. The policy was also linked to the Soma mine disaster involving the death of 301 miners.
The Kyoto Climate Change Protocol was signed at Kyoto Climate Change Conference in 1997. It included binding objectives to lower the a —-
r 1997 and included binding objectives to decrease the amount of greenhouse gases worldwide. The protocol de facto came into force on February 16, 2005 after Russia became a party in November 2004.
It was accepted by Turkish Grand National Assembly on February 5th, 2009. We had to wait until August 26th, 2009 for official application to become a party. Which means that Turkey became a party to Kyoto Protocol 12 years after it was signed.
Turkey did the exact same things again. First became a party to the agreement, then accelerated climate changing policies. 2012 was declared “coal year” as if just to spite. Mega imported coal power plants, mega city hospitals, airports followed.
It’s as if government kept its foot on both camps. It included climate changing investments in its own agenda while leaving the agreement for society.
Current situation is both different and very similar.
Some countries were taking climate negotiations so slow that it seemed like meetings were moving in slow motion. In 1987, carbon-dioxide density passed the safe limit of 350 particle per million. Nevertheless, just as it’s a shame that first agreement came in 1992 and second one in 1997, it’s also a shame Turkey became a party to first in 2004 and second in 2009.
Real necessity was an agreement which would be binding, efficient, involve everyone and assertively decrease greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Such an agreement was supposed to be completed in 2009. Some countries blocked it. Instead, a not very binding, less serious agreement which would in fact increase emissions was signed at the 21st Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015. Yes, if the agreement succeeds, climate change would slow down a bit. There was a chance it could be a good starting point by uniting countries on common ground. Of course we can always say that a bad agreement is better than no agreement.
Paris Climate Agreement is better than no agreement but it can’t be a solution. It’s not binding or limiting for countries, it only knocks some sense into them. In that sense it came to the rescue of governments who lent towards postponing it. Before the agreement, intended nationally determined contributions were asked of countries. Countries inflated their atmosphere emission numbers with Turkey being one the highest. So that if Turkey became a party to the agreement, nothing would be binding. Government even lowered its wind and solar objectives written on official documents. Turkey essentially declared it would harm climate more in next 15 years than it did in last 25 years and described it as “reduction”.
To give a very simple example, Turkey had added 193.5 million tons to climate changing greenhouse gases in last 20 years before 2010. With the objective defined in its declared intended contributions, it promised to add 510 million tons more greenhouse gases compared to 2010. Therefore, emissions which were at 200 million tons in 1990 would increase to 929 million tons by 2030. Which means that after all thermal power plants and bridges constructed, asphalt and concrete used in last 20 years, Turkey officially presented a policy of doubling that amount in next 20 years.
This time, instead of signing an agreement first and then starting projects to change climate, Turkey took a precaution by saying “if I sign I can change climate however I want”. With this confidence, it attended the symbolic signature ceremony of Paris Agreement in April 2016. The signing minister’s first stop back in Turkey was the opening ceremony of a thermal plant in Adana.
Government understood this aspect of Paris Agreement very well. Even if it became a party, coal-petrol-gas-asphalt-concrete policies would not be obstructed.
Currently the situation is same as 2004 and 2009. Lots of coal-petrol-gas-asphalt-concrete policies are ongoing including concrete on Salda Lake, gold mines at tens of natural beauties like Kaz Mountains and student housing at ODTÜ forest. Thus, 71.7 million tons production and 38.3 million tons imports of coal in 2017 (45.9 million tons production and 5.6 million tons imports in 1990) will be a lot more by 2030. Add to that list petrol, gas, asphalt and concrete.
Defending Paris Agreement in order to benefit from climate funding means disaster. Becoming a party while aggressively wanting to change climate means setting a bad example for countries. Be sure that, a lot of politicians want Turkey to become a party only for this reason.
Turkey has wanted to become a party to Paris Agreement since the beginning and has made preparations accordingly. Yes it will become a party and very soon. But will it become a party to change climate or to slow down change? The answer lies in us defending correct policies.
Who is Önder Algedik?
Project manager, energy and climate expert, activist. After working as a project manager in various sectors, in recent years he has been working as an expert in climate change and energy field. He is a member of the executive committee of the Association of Consumer and Climate Protection as well as being a founding member of the climate activist group 350ankara.org. He shared his works and evaluations in Cumhuriyet Enerji for some time and he is currently writing at yesilekonomi.com. His reports and archive can be reached at http://www.onderalgedik.com/.